They say we all reap from vineyards we did not plant, and that is so true. All of us, in some way, shape, or form, are always benefiting from the hard work and sacrifice of someone who came before us.
This is a fact I’ve considered in the past, but it has been on my mind even more lately. All thanks to a little, time-worn letter.
Last month, my parents and sister took a vacation to Pennsylvania. While there, my sister (who I’ve turned into a history nerd just like myself) came across this letter at an antique store and just had to get it for me. It was written in 1918, by a US soldier fighting in France named Marvin Harner. He wrote the letter almost 104 years to the day from when my sister gave me this unique souvenir. In it, he mentions rather ordinary, real-life things, like letters he received from family members, his lack of friends from home in his unit, and the message preached the previous Sunday that encouraged him. Even so, this little glimpse into a stranger's life from over a century ago struck me deeply.
I had to know what happened to him.
With the help of a family friend who has a knack for this kind of research, we found Marvin in the military records. But what we found wasn’t what I hoped for…
Private Marvin Harner of the US Army was declared MIA and presumed dead a little over a month after he wrote the letter I now hold in my possession. He was just twenty-three years old.
This sobering ending to Marvin’s life stirred me even more. There is a chance that no one else is around to remember this soldier and his sacrifice for our country. What if I and those I’ve shared his story with are the only ones who remember him? What a sad thought, to think of his sacrifice being forgotten.
As the saying goes, I, as an American, am reaping benefits because of the sacrifice of this seemingly ordinary young man and many others like him. Without their bravery and willingness to pay the ultimate price, we would not be here enjoying this beautiful country.
With Independence Day just around the corner, this is especially relevant, because we recall those who fought to even give us our freedom to begin with. Without those founding fathers and the Patriot army, we would never have been able to reap the blessings of the United States of America.
Yet it’s not only our American heroes who we should remember and be thankful for. As Christians, we are all continually reaping rewards because of spiritual warriors and “founding fathers” that came before us. Without my great, great aunt taking my grandmother and her siblings to church, and without my grandmother and her family inviting my grandfather to church, I wouldn’t be serving the Lord today. Without the great revival ministers of decades and centuries past, entire churches and denominations would not exist. Without the original twelve apostles, the whole world never would have heard about Jesus! And if not for Jesus… the One who paid the ultimate of all ultimate sacrifices for our freedom… we would never be able to have a spiritual Independence Day. We would still be bound by the oppression of our sin and doomed to never taste the sweet beauty of liberty.
In Joshua 4, the children of Israel passed miraculously across the Jordan, on dry land, like their parents did through the Red Sea forty years earlier. Before they finished crossing into the Promised Land, the Lord commanded the Israelites to take twelve stones and place them there for a memorial so that their children could look at them and remember what God did:
“Pass over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel: That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.”
Joshua 4:5-7 KJV
Many other times in the Bible God instructed His people to remember what He did for them in the past. For instance, it’s the reason they were to celebrate so many Feast Days – to commemorate important events and miracles of the past, like the Passover and Esther’s brave intervention for her people.
Just as it was the Jews’ duty to remember what God had done, it is our duty as Christians to also remember who and what came before us. The battles and victories, blessings and miracles, the sacrifices, and even the mistakes as well. In fact, it is dangerous for us to forget! Because if we don’t remember and appreciate our pasts, we will become ungrateful and ultimately fail to properly care for our present or our future.
This Independence Day, take the time to remember those who came before you, both in our country’s history and in our spiritual history. We are greatly blessed, and we should never forget just how much so!
Photo by Karolina Grabowska: https://www.pexels.com/photo/c...